The pneumatic nail gun is the most common and most powerful nailer, and use a small air compressor and air pressure to power a piston which in turn drives the nail into your material.
They are easy to use with a little practice.
They are also pretty expensive (especially when you also have to buy an air compressor. However, if you have a project that will use a lot of nails it can really be worth it, because it will save a ton of time, bent nails and banged up wood.
For the combination of power and productivity, a pneumatic nailer is a must-have if you plan to do any serious building, such as but not limited to building a deck, gazebo, shed, addition, pergola, or even a fence.
Finally, the most important thing to know before buying or even considering a pneumatic nailer, know what you will be using it for. The gun you get depends on what you will be using it for. Longer thicker nails need stronger guns.
In order of power:
Brad Nailer: 18 gauge nails, up to 2” long. Good for hobbies and crafts (jewelry boxes, birdhouses).
Finish Nailer: 15 / 16 gauge nails, up to 2.5” long. Good for moldings, trim, beadboard and other medium-duty decorative elements.
Specialty: Flooring nailer for installing hardwood floors and roofing nailer for roofs.
Framing Nailer: these are heavy-duty construction guns and will be a must-have if you are building a deck or an addition to your house.
Air Requirement: each nailer has a specific range of air pressures (psi: pounds per square inch) and air volumes (cfm: cubic feet per minute) required to work. Make sure that compressor provides the minimum air pressure and quantity to work with your nailer. And make sure your air hose is the right size and length.
Type: stick or coil. Stick nailers take nails that are held together to form a “stick”. The “sticks” are usually 20-40 nails long.
Coil nailers take magazines or coils of nails up to 300 nails long.
Weight: A heavy gun will absorb the kickback well, driving your nail in more deeply, but will also be tiring.
Trigger: single-nail with a trigger pull is the safest. But you can also get models that rapid-fire (2 nails per pull), or nailers that nail on the “bump”, nailing every time the head of the gun comes into contact with something (meaning anything). Some models will let you switch between some of these trigger styles, so you can start of slow until you get the “hang of it”.
Tool-less Adjustments: New models usually will not require tools to adjust the nail depth or for unjamming nails.
Nail Depth Adjustment and Nail Size Adjustment: These particularly matter if you will be using many sizes of nails on a project.
In addition, an air compressor is heavy and expensive. The set up is not as portable as cordless, but is more powerful, and a gas-powered compressor will also not depend on having an electrical outlet nearby. Though it is expensive, a serious DIYer will have other uses for an air compressor (particularly cleaning tools and work areas).
If you are using a pneumatic nailer for outdoor work, skip the electrogalvanized nails (they just won’t last as long), use stainless steel.
Finally, make sure you can easily find nails for the gun you are interested in.
The safety considerations for the pneumatic guns are the same as for the electric nailer. Always wear safety goggles, and watch your hands (and feet!).
In addition, use the proper air pressure specified for your tool, and always disconnect the air hose before removing a jammed nail or doing other servicing tasks. You don’t want to pull out the jammed nail and find the next one in line sticking out of your hand (if you are lucky)!
Most of all: Be careful, and pay attention.
Here’s a few resources for pneumatic nail safety.
Pneumatic nail guns range in average price around $175-275. I don’t feel qualified to tell you which models are the best (check back in May :), but here is a good source.
So if you are planning to build a deck (I hope to be building a deck and pergola next spring), a pneumatic framing nail gun is a smart idea to save you a ton of time and energy.
If you will be only installing molding, trim, panels, beadboard, or doing small craft projects, than the choice is yours… Pneumatic nailers can drive 18 gauge finish and brad nails up to 2” long (longer than the average electric nailer).
Finally, even if you won’t be buying or using a pneumatic nail gun, you may want to choose a contractor that uses a pneumatic nail gun. A pneumatic nail gun saves a lot (a lot!) of time (which also saves money), and usually makes for a more productive contractor. Which one do you prefer?
Can’t say it better than this. Using an Air Nailer: 10 Easy Steps
Ins and Outs of Pneumatic Nailers (details! Maybe more than you ever thought to know :)
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